Thursday, December 5, 2013

Interpreting the Artist's Muse

Everything is subject to interpretation. Even muses, as Seattle artist Patty Grazini has illustrated in her latest show of work at the Curtis Steiner gallery in Seattle. Her subjects of interpretation are thirteen scale models of artists' muses fashioned entirely in paper. Accompanying each of her fifteen-inch paper models are: varied accessories rendered in the artists' paintings; a decorative frame of gold papers with a replica of the artwork; and a handsome display providing a short biography of each artist's muse. The word astonishing frequently comes to mind when I try to describe her interpretive artworks.  

This is the seventh consecutive year that Grazini has exhibited her paper artwork at Curtis Steiner's gallery (follow this link to last year's post which will lead to two others), each with a new theme and narrative. One common thread however, is the historic costume, and I asked her about this interest. She explained that she particularly loves 19th century costume, however she wanted this show to reflect a wider time period and range of different artists and muses. This group spreads over the course of 400 years, beginning with Rembrandt's muse and wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh, and ending with Picasso's muse, Dora Maar.  

It seems there is nothing that Patty cannot replicate in paper. When I asked her if she had any particular challenges with this group, she spoke of the difficulty of creating the surface designs on a number of the costumes. 
     "The greatest challenge with this group was trying to replicate the dress and accessories in the paintings. I had to treat the papers in ways that were new for me. In the Rembrandt (Saskia) piece, I bleached the paper. I wanted to retain the surface design, but remove the color. Then I re-dyed the paper to match the painting. I wasn't sure if I could accomplish this before the paper disintegrated. Although the paper was very fragile in the process, it ultimately worked." 
A sleeve from the Rembrandt muse, Saskia, which Grazini bleached and re-dyed. 

For her portrayal of the Matisse muse, Grazini added her own stamped and ruled surface designs to the paper costume in order to loosely interpret his intentions.

Few details get lost in Grazini's work; even on the reverse side. Each model can take her nearly three or four steady weeks to complete, and she focuses on just one piece at a time, so "not to scatter my attention" she claims. Every stitch, and every seam, is constructed the way a master tailor might design each piece. It helps that she has an eye for color and for texture, and she continually challenges herself to learn. 
     Picasso once said "I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them." The same could be said of Grazini's work. Much to my surprise, she never works from preliminary drawings. Instead, she prefers to experiment as she goes. 
     "I sometimes start a piece and then if it isn't working...I start over again. I need to see it before I know if I am able to get the results that I want" she explained.

The narrative story in Grazini's work is as critical an element as the craft itself. She loves stories and history—especially art history—and has finely tuned her research skills over the years to find these stories. 
     "I want to give voice to people in history, and especially to women, who have been overlooked or forgotten. There were a few muses whose story I felt compelled to tell. These were a bit more challenging because I had to portray the muse in whatever painting she appeared. The dress was a secondary concern. Jeanne Hebuterne (the Modigliani muse) and Lizzie Siddal (the Rossetti muse) were two examples."

Rossetti's muse, Elizabeth "Lizzie" Siddal (1829-1863) was a milliner's assistant before she became entangled in a twelve-year relationship with him. Their dramatic affair was filled first with joy and then anguish, and ended tragically after her drug overdose. Rossetti insisted his journal of poems about her be buried in her coffin—only to regret it later. Eventually he had the notebook retrieved.

Titles displayed on each model's base were penned by gallery owner, Curtis Steiner who has a beautiful way with the pen.  

If you are in the Seattle area between now and Christmas, Curtis Steiner is keeping his gallery open daily. Grazini's paper models are nicely staged there against a backdrop of beautiful furnishings, finely beaded jewelry, exquisite artworks and other alluring antiquities, which are all for sale and on exhibition throughout the holidays. You can also read more accounts about The Artists' Muses on her website.


  1. INCREDIBLE!!!! Such talent

  2. Holy Cow, that is amazing and so beautiful!

  3. Patty, you are the most incredibly talented person I know! Your work never ceases to amaze me! Love you!

  4. Patty, your work is the most amazing I have ever seen. You have such talent for every piece that you create...what a wonder you are..Thank you for sharing your creations with us. Can't wait for your next showing!

  5. I would happily wear any of these outfits (if they were human-sized and not so fragile, that is)!


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